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EDITORIAL

Why Discouraging Food Importation Is Imperative

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CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele

A former minister of Agriculture and Rural Development,Chief Audu Ogbeh, once lamented that Nigeria spends $22billion annually on food

importation. He also said that the situation was unsustainable as it poses danger to the nation’s economy.

The governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, had also said that Nigeria’s monthly food import bill fell from $665.4million in January 2015 to $160.4million as of October 2018. He said the reductions in food import were recorded on rice, fish, milk, sugar and wheat, adding that the policy would be maintained.

However, despite the reduction in food importation achieved within the period under review, most economists believe that the amount spent on food importation is still on the high side and that the reduction that has been achieved merely scratched the surface of the problem. Perhaps, this informed the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to CBN to stop the sale of Forex to food importers, and that rather, such importers should source for Forex from the parallel market. In the opinion of the president, Nigeria is now self-sufficient in food production.

What the president did was to protect local farmers and to ensure that  Nigerians eat only what they produce and in the process save scarce foreign reserve from depletion.

While the jury is still out there  on whether we have achieved self-sufficiency in food production or not, no one can fault the good intentions of the President to transform the agricultural sector to the level where Nigeria ceases to be a net importer of food to a net exporter of food and other agricultural produce to the rest of the world.

No serious country toys with its self-sufficiency in food production.

That is why food security has become national security. Take the case of the United Kingdom where most of her citizens are worried about their food security which could be one of the consequences of Prime Minister Boris Johnson taking Britain out of EU by October without a deal.

China is another example. There was a time when China could not feed itself without importing food. This was also the time its population was growing astronomically and it had to embrace the one-child policy to halt the growth even as it had serious challenges feeding its population. At this time, Chinese leaders, as part of the reforms spearheaded by the Communist party, put a halt to food importation and encouraged the Chinese farmers to produce more. Today, China’s population is about 1.6billion, far higher than what the population was when China’s reforms began, but that country is self-sufficient in food production.

Another country with a huge population that had serious challenge feeding its population is India. Stories were told of how people used to die of hunger on the streets of India in the ‘60s, but that is no longer the case. India with about 1.2billion people represents another success story of self-sufficiency in food production. Of course, we know that India, like other countries of the world, still has millions living on less than one dollar a day but that is largely the result of the inability to redistribute the food produced to reach those who need it most-the poor and vulnerable groups-rather than the country not producing enough. Similarly, the United States is another country that is self-sufficient in food production and still has millions that do not have enough food to eat.

Self-sufficiency in food production is key to national development and stability, which explains why countries including the advanced ones continue to provide subsidy for their farmers. Any policy, therefore, that is geared towards self-sufficiency in food production and to encourage our farmers to remain competitive should be encouraged and supported by Nigerians. However, we should ensure that while we are doing this, the masses do not suffer. This government can do this by providing subsidy for farmers in such a way that their farm produce could be sold at a price that the average Nigerians could afford.

Take the case of rice production. No one could argue that Nigerian rice farmers have not increased output in the last four years through the Anchor Borrowers Programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), but that has not significantly reduced the price of rice in the market when compared with the smuggled foreign rice. The government can reduce the incentive to buy foreign rice by Nigerians by subsidizing the locally produced rice so that it will be significantly lower in price than foreign rice. This is a clarion call on Nigerians to eat Nigerian grown food as they are tasty, nutritious and healthy.

Nigeria has been compelled to diversify away from the oil-dependent economy. For decades successive governments had treated this with kid gloves. Now the chicken has come home to roost. The United States is no longer buying our oil; the price of oil is no longer reliable as it fluctuates downward mostly, even as it is becoming increasingly obvious that the world is gradually but surely phasing out fuel-driven automobiles. What are we going to do with our crude oil as the world dumps it for renewable energy? Drink it?

We have been condemned to diversify our economy and we must do it quickly before it is too late. It is therefore imperative for all Nigerians to support every policy of the federal government geared towards the diversification of our economy and providing incentives for our farmers to increase their productivity and outputs. If we have to close our borders to achieve self-sufficiency in food production, let it be.

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